How accurate are coat traits for discriminating wild and hybrid forms of Felis silvestris?

Elena Ballesteros-Duperón 1 , Emilio Virgós 2 , Marcos Moleón, José M. Barea-Azcón 1 ,  and José M. Gil-Sánchez 1
  • 1 Environment and Water Agency of Andalusia, Regional Ministry of Environment of the Junta de Andalucía, C/Joaquina Eguaras, 10, E 18013 Granada, Spain
  • 2 Escet, Department of Biology and Geology, University King Juan Carlos, C/ Tulipan, s/n, E-28933 Madrid, Spain
  • 3 Centre for African Ecology, School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits 2050, Johannesburg, South Africa
Elena Ballesteros-Duperón, Emilio Virgós, Marcos Moleón, José M. Barea-Azcón and José M. Gil-Sánchez


Hybridisation between domestic cats, Felis catus, and wildcats, Felis silvestris, could lead to the genetic extinction of the latter; therefore, checking hybridisation rates in wild populations is of vital conservation importance. However, detecting hybridisation in the field is particularly challenging. Here, we aim to test the success of morphological-based procedures for discriminating wildcats from their hybrids and domestic cats, against genetic methods. We checked 17 putative Spanish wildcats by using two different classification systems based on coat patterns. None of the putative wildcats analysed in this study seemed to have an admixed genotype. Concordance between genetic and pelage approaches was almost total: only one coat classification produced mixed results with detection of one potential hybrid. Assignment was worse when performed in the field after a rapid examination of coat characters. We conclude that classification systems using coat traits could serve as surrogates of genetic approaches, but only after careful examination of those characters with more discriminatory power. Thus, the control of hybrid populations in the field as a management tool to preserve the genetic identity of wild forms is problematic if based on crude approaches or incomplete classification systems.

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Mammalia is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the inventory, analysis and interpretation of Mammalian diversity. It publishes original results on all aspects of systematics (comparative, functional and evolutionary morphology; morphometrics; phylogeny; biogeography; taxonomy and nomenclature), biology, ecology and conservation of mammals.